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Subjectlinux scheduler limitations?

I'm working on an enhanced version of Apache and I'm hitting my head
against something I don't understand.

I've found a (to me) unexplicable system behaviour when the number of
Apache forked instances goes somewhere beyond 1050, the machine
suddently slows down almost top a halt and becomes totally unresponsive,
until I stop the test (SpecWeb).

Profiling the kernel shows that the scheduler and the interrupt handler
are taking most of the CPU time.

I understand that there must be a limit to the number of processes that
the scheduler can efficiently handle, but I would expect some sort of
gradual performance degradation when increasing the number of tasks,
instead I observe that by increasing Apache's MaxClient linit by as
little as 10 can cause a sudden transition between smooth working with
lots (30-40%) of CPU idle to a total lock-up.

Moreover the max number of processes is not even constant. If I increase
the server load gradually then I manage to have 1500 processes running
with no problem, but if the transition is sharp (the SpecWeb case) than
I end-up having a lock up.

Anybody seen this before? Any clues?

- Fabio

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